Councilwoman Toni Iseman: Laguna Beach is ‘being loved to death’
Toni Iseman, shown in her Laguna Beach home on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 has served on the City Council for two decades and is the city’s longest serving politician. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
LAGUNA BEACH — For Toni Iseman, it has long been about fighting for issues that impact the lives of residents of this small seaside town. Whether it’s pushing for a free trolley service to help ease traffic congestion, pressing for noise ordinance enforcement on motorcycles and loud cars rumbling through town, maintaining Laguna’s historic character or safeguarding the environment by protecting canyons, beaches and coves, Iseman has been at the forefront.
On Friday, Feb. 2, the five-term councilwoman and four-time mayor was celebrated for her achievements during a luncheon at the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach. A capacity crowd honored the Nebraska native who moved to Laguna in 1970 and began serving on the City Council in 1988 [sic 1998]. Iseman is the longest consecutively serving council member in Laguna’s history.
Iseman, who served as the city’s mayor in 2017 and whose term expires this year, said on Monday, Feb. 5, she will only seek re-election if no other candidate shares her core values.
“We’re at a turning point,” Iseman said Monday, reiterating points she made during a speech at her tribute. “The town is cranky, tired, and impatient — traffic, perhaps the crush of the tourist, especially their cars. “Hundreds of thousands live nearby in Irvine, Lake Forest, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo,” she said. “There are tens of thousands of houses yet to be built. We are their beach. The developers advertise proximity to Laguna. People come here because there’s a ‘there’ there and we welcome them, but not their cars. We are a coastal town, not a coastal resort. We are being loved to death.”
When she first took her seat on the council in 1998, Iseman said, she was most troubled by parking, traffic and development. These have become amplified, she said. “Some people come here with an attitude that they can do what they want,” she said, expanding on similar points from Friday’s event. “It’s up to us to set the boundaries.”
Iseman, known for speaking her mind, cautions developers who want to use the town’s reputation as a way to make money. “Laguna is turning into a profit center for people who want to scrape and build,” she said.
As an example, she points to a renovation at the Coast Inn, asking where all the parking there will go and what impacts a project slated to cost $25 million might have on the neighboring community. She also points to noise enforcement as an issue that continues to trouble her and others in the community.
“Motorcycles come into town and infringe on our life,” Iseman said. “They rev their motors with all the people on the sidewalks and make the car alarms go off. It’s a good time for them but not for us. I would like aggressive enforcement so that they tiptoe through Laguna.”
A highlight for Iseman in 2017 was the city’s proclamation declaring June as LGBT Heritage and Cultural Month. “Like so many things, it was just the right time,” she said of the proclamation. “We, Laguna, are ahead of our time. Hopefully, the rest of the country will come along.”
During Friday’s event, two tables were sponsored by the LGBT Heritage and Cultural Committee in recognition of Iseman’s support. “What strikes me most about Toni Iseman is her unbreakable stand for the LGBT community,” said Chris Tebbutt, who with other gay leaders founded the LGBT Heritage & Culture Committee in 2017. “More than that, she is a steadfast champion of humanity, equality and love. It’s just who she is.” “My favorite quote of Toni’s is something she said 20 years ago and again last year at our proclamation,” he added. “In Laguna Beach we don’t merely tolerate the gay community, we embrace the gay community.”